My pause for radical self-care (and what happened as a result)

self-care

I am slowly, one breath at a time, finding my way back to equilibrium.

Two weeks ago, I was suddenly aware of how wobbly I’d become – spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Like a toddler on new legs, I was stumbling around, bumping into things (and people), and occasionally falling down. Also like a toddler, my emotions had become suddenly unregulated and unpredictable. I cried or got angry at the slightest provocation. And I was making mistakes I don’t normally make.

I knew it was time for a pause. I knew I needed to step away from my adult-sized obligations and simply let my wobbly toddler nature stumble along until she’d figured out how to walk again without harming herself.

As I mentioned in my last post, it’s been a big year, full of significant shifts in both my business and personal life. Mix all of the ingredients of my year – rapid (and unexpected) business growth and increased demand on my time and energy, the ending of a 22 year marriage, solo-parenting to three daughters navigating the path from adolescence to early adulthood, and a few fairly significant volunteer commitments (sponsoring Syrian refugees, hosting race relations conversations, and starting a women’s circle) – and you get a recipe for stress. The wobble is not unexpected.

Though I’m fairly consistent about incorporating self-care practices into my week, it was clear that I had reached a place where I needed to take more radical action.

I knew that if I didn’t put myself first for awhile, I would not be able to be of service to anyone else.

Here’s what I’ve been doing for the last two weeks:

  1. I reduced my screen time to almost nothing, stepping away from social media and emails in particular. I’d noticed that my wobbliness got worse when I spent too much time online, so I got off that treadmill. This was one of the healthiest things I could have done. It relieved a lot of the pressures of having to live up to other people’s expectations, meet other people’s needs, etc. It freed up a lot of space to focus on the healing and soul care I needed to do.
  2. I spent a lot of time outside. Nature heals me. It helps me feel grounded and connected again. I wandered in the woods, played at the beach, and sat for hours in my backyard around the fire. I hugged trees and talked to pelicans and frogs. Mother Earth revealed her Spring splendour to me and, when I paused to pay attention, she helped to heal my hurt and reminded me of my place in the nature of things.
  3. I got physical and sweaty. I rode my bike, went for long walks, and dug in my garden. With each footstep, each revolution of the bike pedals, and each handful of dirt, I worked through my anxiety, my stress, and my hurt. I let my body take over where my mind had gotten stuck. I alchemized some of the ache in my heart by letting my muscles take on the aching for awhile.
  4. I went to see a therapist. I’d become aware that some of my stress was related to some old patterns that I’d developed over years of dysfunctional communication in my marriage. I needed help letting go of those old patterns so that they wouldn’t have control over me anymore. After listening to my story, she gave me wise, holistic advice that I’m still processing and will probably write more about another time.
  5. I let people help me. So many of you helped me – with your kindness, your cards, your financial support, etc. – and there are not enough words to express my gratitude. Accepting help is a humbling and healthy thing, but it’s not something my ego let’s me do very often. When I accept help, though, I am reminded that I am not in this alone and I begin to see the world through a less self-absorbed lens.
  6. I played, slept, and did some deep relaxation. For the first few days, after I’d canceled my client sessions and gotten offline, I slept much more than usual. Then, when I felt rested, I found ways to play. Being barefoot in the sand at the beach helped a lot. I needed lightheartedness to remind me not to take the world quite so seriously. Thanks to a birthday gift from my daughters, I spent a whole day relaxing with a friend at Thermeaoutdoor spa.
  7. I prayed. When I get wobbly, as I did, it’s often a reminder to me that I am trying too hard to carry the world on my shoulders and not living from a place of trust. Reaching out to a Higher Power reminds me that I don’t have to do this all with my own strength. I have a powerful God/dess on my side, so why walk alone? Like a toddler who knows her parent is close by to catch her when she stumbles, I reached out my hand and let Her hold me. “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. S/he will not let your foot be moved; s/he who keeps you will not slumber.”
  8. I meditated. I’m not a very faithful meditator, but when I lose my equilibrium and my mind starts spinning in a hundred directions at once, I know that one of the only ways to find balance again is to plant my seat on my cushion, be still, and take deep breaths. It takes a lot of practice to still the racing mind, but slowly I’m getting back into the habit.
  9. I paid attention. The wobbliness was there to teach me what changes I needed to make in my life, so the first thing I did was slow down enough to pay attention. I paid attention to my body’s ache for more time away from the computer. I paid attention to what the persistent cough might be telling me about what was being stifled in my life. I paid attention to what triggered the tears and anger. I paid attention to how my breathing gets more shallow when I’m under stress and how I sometimes hold my breath. And I paid attention to how my needs were or were not being met. And then I responded accordingly.
  10. I cleared a lot of clutter. After years of neglect, our backyard had begun to resemble the wild kingdom. I began to tend it again, the same way I have been tending my heart – tearing out the seedlings that had grown in the wrong place, trimming back the hedges that were blocking the light, and pulling a lot of weeds that were smothering the beauty. At the end of hours of back-breaking labour, I put a circle of chairs around a small fire pit in the middle of the yard, under the canopy of ancient trees, and my daughters and I have enjoyed many hours of easy conversation around the fire.
  11. I let myself grieve. I reflected often on what David Whyte says in this short video clip… “One of the difficulties of leaving a relationship is not so much leaving the person themselves – because by that time, you’re ready to go. What’s difficult is leaving the dreams that you shared together. And you know that somehow, no matter who you meet in your life in the future, and no matter what species of happiness you will share with them, you will never ever share those particular dreams again, with that particular tonality and coloration. And so there’s a lovely and powerful form of grief there that is the ultimate in giving away, but making space for another form of re-imagination.” One night by the fire, after my daughters had made their way back into the house, I sat for a long time by the dying embers, grieving the flame that had died, grieving the shared dreams and the hopes that things would turn out differently. When the fire was gone, I got up and crawled into bed, alone and content.
  12. I dared to disappoint people in order to care for myself. This is a big one for me, as I have always struggled with a fear of letting people down. But I knew that I could not continue the way I was – trying to ensure everyone around me was happy so that my world would feel safe – and still be healthy and do good work. The words of Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s poem, The Invitation, kept going through my mind… “I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.”

Now, as I make my way back to my work and begin to consider what work calls me next, I am being more intentional about how I step back in. I am working on a deeper understanding of what it means for me to be “openhearted with boundaries”. I am trying to do a better job of managing people’s expectations (ie. if you don’t get a response from an email, please wait a few days). I’m looking after what my body tells me I need. I’m shifting the way I show up in relationships. I am being more careful to protect my energy, my health, and my heart.

I believe that, when I “put on my own oxygen mask first”, I’ll be better able to care for the people around me, and my work will come from a place of abundance rather than depletion.

I also believe that, once in awhile, it’s valuable to return to the legs and heart of a toddler, stumbling around trying to find balance, giggling at things that surprise us, crying whenever our emotions overwhelm us, reaching out to a benevolent grown-up for support when we need it, and exploring the delights of the world with unguarded eyes.

I turned fifty in the middle of my time away. Fifty is a good age to become a toddler again. It’s good to be standing on new legs as I enter the second half of my life. 

In honour of my new toddler view of the world, I am currently perched about six feet above the ground in a tree in my backyard. There’s a great spot, in a tree that must be at least a hundred years old, where three massive limbs separate and create a natural nook, that I always thought would be a perfect place for a treehouse. I haven’t built anything permanent yet, but today, on a whim, I carried a ladder and some old couch cushions to the backyard to make myself a makeshift little nest where I can sit and hide and get close to the birds and the squirrels.

How about you? Are you wobbling around on toddler legs? Is it time for you to pause for radical self-care and perspective shift? Is it time to say no for awhile so that you can say a bigger YES to the world that awaits?

If you’re telling yourself that “it sure would be nice, but there’s no way I could do that”, you might want to take a look at your excuses and see if they are true or if they are wrapped up in a story about how the world simply can’t function without you at the helm. You may not be able to step away in the way that I did (I understand the demands of small children and full-time jobs), but you can find your own version that works within your current reality.
p.s. If you need some help finding your balance again, or working through the stories that keep you stuck in old patterns, perhaps I can help. I’m taking on a few new coaching clients.

Celebrating my birthday month by offering you gifts

mirth and laughter

It’s my birthday month. I’m turning fifty in just a few weeks. A half century! I’m having some trouble wrapping my brain around that.

I had big hopes of doing something epic for my fiftieth birthday. Almost all year, I’ve been trying to come up with just the right epic adventure to mark 50 years. Should I return to Africa and maybe visit the school I’ve been supporting? Or should I go on a solo backpacking trek? Or maybe a vision quest? Or maybe I should book a retreat centre and invite all of my friends to a big art-making sleepover?

For a variety of reasons, I decided that it was best to let go of the epic adventure. Not this year. Maybe it will unfold another time.

Putting epic aside, I still want to mark what feels like a major transition at the end of what’s been a year of major change for me, so I’m doing smaller things closer to home.

I’ve been painting my home, creating fresh space for my daughters and me. And I’m getting ready to publish my book. Those are the big projects that are keeping me busy during this birthday month.

I want to bring you into the celebration. With this big birthday coming up, I’ve been taking stock, looking back over my body of work. It makes me happy to see what has been emerging out of me.

I may not have epic, and I may not have reached some of my big dreams (yet – I’ve still got time!), but I have lived a really great life and have created a lot that I am proud of. So I’m sharing some of that with you this month. Some will be stuff I’ve already created at discounted rates, some will be a re-imagining of what’s there, and at least one thing will be brand new. Almost everything will have the theme of “fifty”.

First…

I’m offering Mandala Discovery at 50% off!

That means that, for less than a dollar a lesson, you can get some of my best work sent to you each day for thirty days. I’m pretty sure you’ll love it!

Here’s what you need to do to collect the discount… go to the sales page, and in the coupon field on the registration form, enter the following code: birthday. And then hit “apply” and it should show the reduced rate.

Stay tuned for more offerings this month. ALSO… there will be a chance for you to contribute to a collaborative art piece that will hang on my newly painted walls! (Details to come.)

Now, I’m off to teach The Circle Way with my friend and colleague, Amanda Fenton. This really is a dream come true and it feels perfect that my inaugural public teaching of The Circle Way in my home city is the same month as my fiftieth birthday. (We still have spots available, if you can make it to Winnipeg by Tuesday evening!)

Here’s hoping that, even without the epic adventure, May will be a fantastic month.

I am Self-centred. (But that doesn’t mean I’m selfish.)

Self-centred

Growing up in a Mennonite home, where self-sacrifice was one of the highest goods, I was convinced that self-centredness was one of the seven deadly sins.

But as I near my fiftieth year on the planet, I’m learning to be Self-centred, and I’m no longer convinced that’s wrong.

This afternoon, after spending many hours gathering all of the tidbits of my business finances together to bring to the accountant for tax preparation (I’m a disorganized business person), I decided to take advantage of the beautiful Spring weather and go to the park. King’s Park, which houses the labyrinth I love, is one of my favourite places to welcome Spring because the two harbingers of Spring on the prairies – crocuses and frogs – can be found there.

Not surprisingly, the old stories came up on the way there. “Your tax bill is going to be high this year – you should be working so you can afford to pay it.” “If you’re not working at your business, you should at least be cleaning the house. Have you looked at the kitchen floor lately? Disgusting.” “If you’re not cleaning or working on your business, shouldn’t you be giving up your free time for a friend who needs you?”

And then the biggie…

“You are being self-centred.”

I smiled at the voices and let them play through their stories in my head, and then I went to the park anyway. I know they mean me no harm – they are there to protect me – and I also know that giving them the upper hand will keep my life small and unhappy. Time in the sunshine is not something I feel guilty about, especially when the taxes are done.

I walked the labyrinth, not in a slow and meditative way, but in a curious and attentive way, watching for the fuzzy heads of crocuses popping up between the paths. The crocuses weren’t quite ready to bloom, but I was rewarded for my attentiveness with a frog who let me get close enough to take a picture.

As I neared the centre of the labyrinth, a new thought popped into my head…

Perhaps it’s a good thing to be Self-centred.

What if, instead of interpreting self-centred as selfish, we interpret it as “keeping your Self at the centre”?

I capitalize Self here, because I’m referring to the spiritual Self, the higher Self, the one that seeks wholeness within a deep relationship with God/dess.

When we walk the labyrinth, we pause at the centre, because that is where we are most in touch with our Self. That is where we rest in openness, ready to receive Spirit. That is where we are most emptied of ego and fear and the false stories that keep us small.

The labyrinth teaches us to be Self-centred.

Paradoxically, a Self-centred life is actually less selfish than an other-centred life, because we don’t rely on others to fulfill us or make us happy. We don’t place unrealistic expectations on others to define us or behave a certain way. We allow others their own happiness without placing obligations on them to make us happy. We give out of our fullness rather than out of our neediness. We are at peace and therefore we create an environment where others can be at peace too.

When we are Self-centred, we do our own work and don’t expect others to fix us.

When we are Self-centred, we detach ourselves from other people’s behaviour and give them the freedom to find their own paths to their own Selves.

When we are Self-centred we find out who we truly are and we no longer rely on other people’s definition of us.

When we are Self-centred, we serve other people out of our delight in them and not out of obligation or need.

When we are Self-centred, we can offer and receive unconditional love.

When we are Self-centred, we can live in community and not expect that community to give us everything we need.

When we are Self-centred, we hold space for our Selves and that allows us to hold space for others without losing ourselves in them.

One month from tomorrow, I’ll turn 50. As I near that milestone, I’m making it my goal to become more Self-centred.

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If you want to be more Self-centred, a journey through The Spiral Path or Mandala Discovery might help. 

Interested in more articles like this? Add your name to my email list and you’ll receive a free ebook, A Path to Connection and my weekly reflections.



 

Spiralling across the sky like a pelican

pelicansThis week, school is back in session. One of my daughters started today and the other two start tomorrow. Two are now in university and one is in grade 8, her last year before high school.

I can say all of the clichéd things, and mean them… My how time flies! Wasn’t it just yesterday I was changing their diapers? How did it all rush past in the blink of an eye?

The return to school always reminds me of the relentless and dependable forward motion of time. Tick, tick, tick goes the clock. Flip, flip, flip go the pages of the calendar.

Today I was rushing out for last minute school supplies, haircut appointments, musical instrument rental, etc., and in the middle of it all, I wanted to hit the pause button. I wanted to slow down the pace of time, enjoy a few more summer days, and cling to my daughters’ fleeting childhood before it all disappears.

From my daughters’ perspective, still in their formative years, this is the way life is supposed to be lived – growing each year, advancing one grade after the other, stepping always forward on the straight line of time guided by the clock and the calendar. It’s the way we’re all raised – to believe that there is always meant to be forward movement. That’s not a bad thing – we want growth to happen.

But that’s only part of the truth and there’s something else I really want my daughters to learn that they probably won’t be taught in school.

Life is to be lived along the spiral and not simply the straight line.

When I was at the beach this summer, working on my book, I spent a lot of time watching pelicans. One of the things I love about pelicans is that, often, they fly across the sky in giant spirals, round and round, adjusting the arc of the spiral just enough each time so that they end at the far side of the sky from where they started.

They do this to conserve energy, riding thermals (updrafts of warm air that rise from the ground into the air), so they don’t have to flap their wings as often. They look so content and relaxed up there, circling round and round with very little effort on their part. High in the sky, they look like mythical creatures, as if they’d climbed out of ancient legends of magicians and shamans. Their shape and the way they move holds both mystery and myth.

That’s the path that I have come to believe is the most true way of seeing our lives. We go round and round, coming back each time to nearly the same place we’ve been, but always with enough of a difference to help us progress forward over time.

How many times have you been in this place you’re at right now? Like the seasons, our lives come back again and again to the harvest of Fall, the dormancy of Winter, the rebirth of Spring, and the growth of Summer. And, like the seasons, we live through the long dark spells, the slow sunny days, the rain, the wind, and the snow. We cycle through grief, through growth, through joy, through surrender, and through ease.

None of the seasons lasts forever. All of them change us a little before we begin the spiral again.

If you are in a place you feel like you’ve been before – whether it’s another cycle through grief, restlessness, waiting, or fear – don’t despair. You’re simply spiralling through the sky, learning what you need to from this trip around the circle, and moving a little further each time.

If you were traveling up a mountain, you’d be best to take the spiralling path, adjusting to the altitude, not tiring yourself out too quickly. Like the pelicans floating on the thermal air, you conserve your energy by not rushing straight ahead. You also learn more and see more that way. This is the way life is meant to be lived.

Don’t rush through, even though the path might seem hard right now. Take what you need from this time, and let it unfold in the fullness of time.

If you want to take a closer look at your own spiral path, I invite you to join us for the October offering of The Spiral Path: A Woman’s Journey to Herself.

 

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What does courage look like for you?

“One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” ~Maya Angelou

courageous step
Last night I went for a walk in my favourite neighbourhood park, Henteleff Park, a long narrow strip of native grasslands and forest along the Red River. Just after entering the park, a movement at the edge of the woods caught my attention. I glanced over to see a dark animal, and because I could only see the top of its back and because I am mostly accustomed to seeing deer in that park, I thought it was an unusually dark deer.

I stepped off the path I was on and ducked through the trees to get a closer look and it was only then that I discovered that it was a bear. A BEAR! Within city limits! Just 5 minutes from my home! Just 20 feet from where I was walking!

Now, for many people, that would have been a rather terrifying discovery that would have sent them quickly back home. For me, though, it was quite exciting. I wanted more! Though I stepped back onto the path and didn’t go directly into the woods were I saw it disappear, I wandered the park for another half hour, hoping I might spot it again. I never did.

What occurred to me after wandering through the woods by myself (there are rarely other people in that park), slightly nervous but not overly concerned for my safety, is this…

Courage looks different for each of us.

After reading my story of bear-seeking, your thought might be “Wow! She is really courageous!” But the truth is, it didn’t take a lot of courage for me to keep walking in the park. I grew up wandering in the woods by myself, and I have always been a camper and hiker, so it didn’t feel like foreign territory for me. It felt familiar, with just a touch of adrenaline. Black bears are not particularly dangerous unless you provoke them.

You may never wander in the woods where you suspect a bear might be found, but there are probably things that you do quite naturally that would seem extremely courageous to me. Maybe you’ve grown up in a place where there are rattle snakes or tarantulas and they hardly phase you but would terrify me. Or maybe you’re way more comfortable wading into situations where there is conflict than I am. (I am admittedly rather conflict-averse.) Or maybe you’d go spelunking in a dark cave where I wouldn’t be caught dead. (Dark claustrophobic spaces are my version of hell.)

There are no universal yardsticks for courage.

There has been much hubbub lately about Caitlyn Jenner being awarded ESPN’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award after making her first public appearance as a woman. There is at least one meme floating around social media where her Vanity Fair cover photo is seen alongside a photo of soldiers in battle, suggesting that REAL courage can be found on the battlefield, not on the pages of a fashion magazine. Now, I’m not interested in arguing whether or not she was the right choice for the award, but I do want to say that it is a false construct to try to compare one version of courage with another.

What looks like courage for one person may not be courage for another person. 

Sometimes, in fact, what we interpret as courage may in fact be the lesser of two evils for a person. A soldier, for example, may be on the battlefield because he is running away from something that really scares him at home. Gunfire may feel less risky than shame, rejection, or family conflict.

For some, it may take more courage to come out as transgendered or gay than it takes to join the army.

For others, the most courageous act might be to take a leap of faith and leave a job in a toxic workplace.

For still others, it might take years to work up the courage to speak their truth in front of people who disagree with them.

Courage is a very individual thing and nobody can define it in your life except you.

If you try to measure your courage on someone else’s yardstick, you will never learn to be true to your own life.

Only you can decide what courageous step you need to take in order to be true to yourself.

Don’t try to take someone else’s step – take your own.

And don’t sell yourself short when you take that courageous step. Celebrate it!

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